Shoulder to shoulder: Balikatan 2014

Two Philippine Navy damage controlmen assigned to the BRP Ramon Alcaraz watch as U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason O'Neil shows them how to operate a portable P-100 fire pump.  This was the first time the Alcaraz sailors had operated the portable pumps - a critical component of safety at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Two Philippine Navy damage controlmen assigned to the BRP Ramon Alcaraz watch as U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Jason O’Neil shows them how to operate a portable P-100 fire pump. This was the first time the Alcaraz sailors had operated the portable pumps – a critical component of safety at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrent Officer Mark Cortor.

Writen by OSC Rahnal Harris

With the recent affirmation of the “ironclad” alliance between the United States and the Philippines, U.S. Coast Guard training officers, led by Lt. Andrea Rice, recently completed a training mission alongside their Philippine Navy counterparts in Balikatan 2014.

Balikatan, Tagalog for “Shoulder to Shoulder”, is an annual U.S.-Filipino bilateral military exercise that includes joint field training as well as humanitarian and civic assistance events. Balikatan, held annually for 30 years, aims to improve the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and strengthen Filipino-U.S. interoperability.

In 2011, the Philippine Navy began acquiring decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard high-endurance cutters to bolster their fleet. At 378 feet long, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (formerly U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (formerly U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas) are now their largest warships. To provide specialized training for these new acquisitions, the Philippine Navy specifically requested U.S. Coast Guard support as part of Balikatan 2014.

Over a 10-day inport period, Coast Guard personnel from Afloat Training Group Pacific provided damage control, engineering, combat operations, bridge and navigation operations, weapons systems, fire-fighting, and other training aboard the Ramon Alcaraz. Then, it was time to throw off the lines and practice these lessons underway.

“This is a great opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder,” said Rice. “We have an opportunity to strengthen United States and Philippine relations and provide specialized training for the Philippine Naval Fleet in our former sister ship.”

The BRP Ramon Alcatraz, formerly USCGC Dallas, lies in her berth. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The BRP Ramon Alcatraz, formerly USCGC Dallas, lies in her berth. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrent Officer Mark Cortor.

ATG personnel also taught their Filipino counterparts best practices for preventive and corrective equipment maintenance to ensure the ship’s safety and ability to operate long-term.

“There isn’t enough time in a week to train on everything, but we can improve the way they train for emergencies,” said Chief Petty Officer Jason O’Neill, a damage controlman. “The P-100s [portable fire pumps] hadn’t been run since they got the ship. That’s an important tool to have ready and to have a crew ready to use.”

Afloat Training Group San Diego, a subordinate unit of the Coast Guard’s Force Readiness Command, provides professional, standardized, specialized training to the Coast Guard’s large cutter fleet. As the core of proficiency in the Coast Guard, Force Readiness Command also develops and maintains instructions for all tactics, techniques, and procedures used in the Coast Guard; supports formal exercises; assesses and analyzes operational performance and readiness; and manages the Coast Guard’s armories and weapons systems. Force Readiness Command includes over 40 subordinate units and more than 2,900 full-time Coast Guard personnel.

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